How to Say No to Working for Free


I answered the phone on a brisk Monday afternoon. On the other end was a woman from a prestigious law firm located on 45th street in Manhattan. It appeared my week was getting off to a great start with a promising photo gig. What followed however, were the 16 words no professional wants to hear. 

"We're looking for a photographer to shoot our event, a student perhaps, you know...for free."

The last two words seemed to echo through the awkward pause. It's not the first time I've heard a request like this, and unfortunately it won't be the last. I remained very friendly to the caller, and tried to use it as a teaching moment. My response was simple:

 "It's difficult to get free legal advice in this city, and just as tough to find a free photographer." Perhaps surprised by my candid reply, she laughed before deploying her last ditch effort, "So you don't want it?"

I recommended she post it on Craigslist before wishing her luck. It's not that all free-jobs are bad, but this wasn't a non-profit organization looking to change the world, but a lawfirm in Midtown Manhattan, the heart of the art and financial capital of the world. Do you have an idea how expensive it is to hire a lawyer for an hour? The point is, if this kind of request happens here, it's happening all over. 

So when you receive a similar call, rather than devaluing your art, use my sample response as a template for your own. 

"Thanks for the kind words about my photography. I'm honored for the request to document your event, but must decline. Substantial time and effort went into learning how to consistently capture images of the highest professional quality. This coupled with the necessary high-end photographic gear, software and post production tools, and it just doesn't make financial sense for me to do this for free. Again, I thank you for your interest, and wish you the best."


Chris Corradino